One of the favorite tactics of sneaky, stealth bullies is to set traps for you.  When you fall into their snare, they’re gleefully smug, “Gotcha!  See, I told you!”  Their hidden agenda is to prove you’re wrong, dumb and bad and they’re right, smart and good.  They’re not interested in truth or equal relationships; they’re interested in putting you down and dragging themselves up.

A general example would be; suppose you’ve said that a particular example of harassment and bullying was hurtful, dangerous and wrong, and they think you’re over-reacting and wrong.  They think the bullying behavior was mild or negligible or normal and that we should ignore it.

They won’t be straightforward and declare their opinion.  They won’t get into a discussion in which they might be proven wrong and have to change their ideas.  For example, they won’t say that they believe you’re over-reacting because you’re a too-sensitive, single parent or because your mommy and daddy were bad to you or because you’re afraid of the dark.  That’s too open for them and doesn’t have the payoff they want.

Instead, because they’re sneaky, manipulative bullies, they’ll simply, almost innocently ask a leading question, “Are you a single parent?” or “Were your mommy and daddy were bad to you?” or “Are you afraid of the dark?”

They’re hoping you’ll say “Yes.”  Then they can sneer and pounce – “See.  I’m right.  You’re merely over-reacting because mommy and daddy were bad to you” or “You’re only over reacting because you’re a foolish single parent.”

They feel safe and smug.  Since they didn’t declare their opinions openly, if you say No” to those questions, they won’t have to admit that their theories or opinions were wrong.  They won’t have to change their beliefs.  Their harassment, bullying and abuse won’t stop.  They’ll simply move on and try to lead you into another trap.

If you want or have to keep dealing with these covert manipulators, maybe because one is your boss or spouse and you’re not ready to leave yet, some tactics to try are:

  • Pin them down to expressing an opinion before you answer the question.  You might ask directly, “What’s your point about whether I’m a single parent?  Tell me directly what you think.”  Or, “What’s your point about whether or not mommy and daddy were bad to me years ago?  Tell me directly what you think.”

Be persevering.  Wait for an answer.  Then follow-up with a statement about their belief and whether your evidence will change their opinions.  “So you think I’m overreacting because I’m a single parent?  So if I’m married, will you change your opinion and will you accept that I’m not overreacting?”  Or, “So you think that people get upset about bullying because their mommies and daddies were bad to them?  So if my mommy and daddy were good to me, will you change your opinion and will you accept that I’m not overreacting?”

  • Laugh at the hidden connection.  “That’s really silly to think that only single-parents get upset when heir children are bullied.  You sound like a person who thinks bullying is fine.”
  • Simply ignore the question.  You don’t have to answer every question that someone asks you.
  • Reverse the question onto them.  “Oh, so you think we should ignore the pain inflicted on that defenseless target.  Were you a bully when you were younger?  Were you bullied when you were younger?  Were you afraid to fight back?”
  • Laugh at the entrapment.  “Oh, you really got me with that question.  You look smug, superior and righteous.  As if that means you’re smart and right.  How childish and silly to play that game at your age.”

Challenge your date, partner or spouse to stop tripping you up or putting you down, or vote them off your life if they keep trying to:

  • Trap you to prove you’re dumb, silly, wrong or bad.
  • Further hidden agendas to put them in charge of all decisions.
  • Convince you that you’re too sensitive and that their sense of humor is fine.
  • Convince you that they don’t have to stop being nasty because once you were nasty to them.

Better than cluttering your space with stealth bullies is to clear your life space so someone good can come into it.  If you don’t, the constant putdowns and “Gotchas” will undermine your confidence and self-esteem, and lead to negative self-talk, self-doubt, anxiety and depression.  It’ll stimulate your own self-bullying patterns and make you weak, immobile and easy prey.

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Ben Leichtling, Ph.D. is author of the books and CDs “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and “Eliminate the High cost of Low Attitudes.” He is available for coaching, consulting and speaking.  To find practical, real-world tactics to stop bullies and bullying at home, school, work and in relationships, see his web site (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com) and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGoneBlog.com).

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